#HeresTheStory: Credit unions in focus

Community 4 min read

13 Oct 2020

In every town and village in Ireland, there is always a few constants. A local shop, a pub and a credit union. And while the credit union story as a whole is fascinating, each individual credit union have their own story to tell. From Derry to Kerry and everywhere in between, we pay a visit to credit unions around the country to see how they started their story.  


ANSAC Credit Union  

ANSAC Credit Union was established in 1994 to serve the members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. The aim of the establishment of ANSAC Credit Union was to help members build up financial resilience and reduce the chances of being overwhelmed by unaffordable debt, which was prevalent in the early 1990s as a result of low pay and a slow economy. ANSAC CU were a welcome addition to this community. This was obvious in their first week of operation when 1,000 accounts were opened. There’s a great sense of community around ANSAC despite that fact that they are an industrial credit union with a wide geographic spread.   

ANSAC Credit Union are greatly supported by those in senior ranks of the Defence Forces and Barrack reps who act as Ambassadors for stations all across the country. Today ANSAC have 6,200 members and an asset size of €30.55m. 


Cara Credit Union  

Kicking off in 1967, Rev. C.D. O’Riordan, formed a study group with a view to establishing a credit union in Tralee, Co. Kerry. Keeping with the motto of founder Nora Herlihy, “No study, No credit union” they studied hard to examine the concept, formation and running of a credit union. Using their own money, they pooled together nearly £50 as the starting capital needed to form the credit union.  Having enjoyed success for almost twenty years, in 1980, they expanded their services to open offices in Castleisland and Ardfert. Cara Credit Union and their community continue to enjoy success over 50 years on from their foundation and today they have over 43,000 members, with €188 million in savings and €74 million on loan to the local community.  


Clones Credit Union 

In 1960 the main focus of the Board in Clones Credit Union was educating people in the local community about the benefits of becoming a member of the credit union. Similar to credit unions around the country, Clones Credit Union’s founders sacrificed some of their own money to get things up and running. In minutes recorded from a meeting of Clones Credit Union in 1960, topics such as secured loans, car insurance, piggy banks for savings and special rates for local clubs were discussed. The topics of conversation display the foresight these founders had for their credit union and moreover the services they could offer for their members was incredible.  

As with every credit union around the country, the aim was to tap into the needs of the members in whatever way they could. In Clones Credit Union, they opened on a Sunday after last mass for an hour 1pm to 2pm to facilitate their members attending religious services. 

In 1960 at the AGM of Clones Credit Union, £4,073-17s-3p in shares, £3,400-7s-6p in loans and a surplus of £88-13s-8p were recorded. This year, Clones Credit Union will record €32.6 million in shares and a loan book of over €13 million. 


Derry Credit Union  

Derry Credit Union was founded by six individuals whose commitment to their community is beyond refute. These founding fathers witnessed the disappointment and frustration experienced by those who could not access traditional bank loans because they did not have collateral and the devastating long-term financial impact created by unscrupulous money lenders. As young men and women, with growing families and growing financial needs themselves, they believed the credit union could be a source of fair and reasonable credit for the ordinary man and woman. As a result of their courageous decision, on 16th October 1960, the first credit union in Northern Ireland was established. A notable leader in this process was John Hume, who brought the idea of the credit union movement to Northern Ireland. Since October 1960, the members of Derry Credit Union have contributed more than £550 million to the local economy.  


Donore Credit Union 

In 1957 at a presentation in Skerries, the National Co-Operative Council showed a film about credit unions in Australia. This piqued the interest of two sisters from Donore parish in Dublin 8 - Eileen and Angela Byrne (Aingil ni Bhroin). Following some information gathering, the sisters decided to see whether their neighbours would also be interested in setting up a credit union, they invited some people to their home on 35 Hamilton St to see if anyone was interested in their idea.  A number of fireside chats were held, and at it was at one of these chats that it was decided to reach out to credit union representatives in the United States, Canada and Australia to gather as much information as possible.  In April 1958, the group of neighbours and friends decided to set up Donore Credit Union, Ireland’s very first credit union. At the time a credit union was a new concept, it was an innovative, courageous and visionary thing to set up, especially as there was limited or no financial experience among the new Credit Union founders.   

Donore Credit Union is the very first credit union in Ireland and is now in it’s 62nd year operating. Donore Credit Union is one of the most successful credit unions of it’s type in Ireland with a focus on community, financial inclusion and the core value of “neighbour helping neighbour”. 


Fintona Credit Union 

Established in 1967, Fintona Credit Union celebrate over 50 years in operation serving their local community in Omagh, Northern Ireland. In 1968 Fintona Credit Union purchased their first premises. It was reported at the board meeting that a small house in Fintona had come up for sale in King Street and the Directors felt it was a good opportunity for the credit union to move to a more prominent location. 

Two of the Directors were sent to purchase the property. They arrived at the house of the vendor at about a quarter past eleven – the vendor was in bed – his wife opened the door and the gentlemen explained their reason for calling.  She took them upstairs to where her husband was in bed, tucked in for the night, his hat sitting on the bedside table.  They discussed the matter at hand and he seemed keen to do business even with the lateness of the hour. After a bit hand slapping (traditional dealer’s method in rural areas where every bid requires a hand slap) they ended up buying the house. The vendor slept well that night! Since then, members have benefited immensely by the existence of this credit union through savings and loans. Currently, Fintona Credit Union have £7 million in members’ savings and £3 million in loans.  Membership is approaching 4,000, including adults and juniors (under 16). 


Health Services Staffs Credit Union 

Health Services Staffs Credit Union was established in 1970 to serve the needs of health services staff in Dublin Kildare and Wicklow. From their beginning HSSCU have enjoyed serving their members needs for 50 years and have experienced huge milestones in their story so far. In 1997, HSSCU were the first credit union in Ireland to have their own dedicated website. This has continued to present day, as HSSCU offer a wide range of online services to their members. In 2007, HSSCU’s common bond was extended to serve health service staff across the entire island of the Republic of Ireland, taking in members from all areas of the country. Fast forward to present day and HSSCU celebrate 50 years of service to their community, with over 55,000 members. 


As you can see from the selection of stories above, each credit union is unique, with one common goal, to ensure their members needs are met. Today, over 60 years since its foundation, credit unions continue to do this. A friendly face, and a trusted voice greets you when you interact with the credit union – why not join your local credit union today?  


This blog has been written as part of our #HeresTheStory campaign which celebrates the credit union movement in the lead up to International Credit Union Day. This campaign features stories from the foundation of the credit union, key influencers in the movement and why this organisation just works for the people of Ireland.